With exceptions the Marxist Left has been hardly less hostile than the mainstream to the rise of the Russian Federation after Vladimir Putin replaced the drunken but pliant Boris Yeltsin 1 at its helm. I get it. For one thing Marxists, beneath a show of disparagement of capitalist media, are no way immune – I saw this over Syria – to media power, mainly subliminal as with advertising but periodically erupting as propaganda blitz, to manufacture opinions we fondly suppose we arrived at all on our lonesome. See my recent post: What of ideology when reality intrudes?
For another, we Marxists do not always apply our own methods. I’m thinking of the cry from a slice of the ‘revolutionary’ left that Russia is now an imperialism. Ditto China. Really? Where’s the empirical analysis to back that declaration using the tools of dialectical materialism? 2
Most of all though, many Marxists note that Russia is a capitalism. One, moreover, still in the wake of the shock therapy of the “wild east” nineties. (In which those Marxist detractors fail to distinguish, as does the mainstream, IMF ‘reforms’ – which had allowed an overnight oligarchy to ‘cheat’ the West’s carpet baggers by trousering the spoils for themselves – from the damage of a decade of plunder more easily inflicted than undone.) For the cautious Mr Putin, forging a more equitable and by that fact more functional Russia will be a slow process – or would have been but for the gift the West unwittingly conferred through the monumental folly of its proxy war in Ukraine.
Since Marxists aren’t supposed to like capitalism in any shape or form, some forget that not just Marx and Engels but other 19th century political economists from Ricardo to Mill saw socialism as an inevitable product of industrial capitalism’s tendencies.
(They also forget to say how capitalisms armed to the teeth, and with surveillance capabilities beyond the wildest dreams of 20th century totalitarianism, can be ousted by the revolutionary methods they pay lip service to. Least of all in the West, whose export to the global south of manufacturing has eroded the conditions which led Marx and Engels to view the proletariat as history’s vanguard. But I’ll not labour this point, nor the fact that their failure and ours to make revolution in the West left both USSR and China to deal alone with the realities of a neoliberal, imperialist world order. It’s not for ‘revolutionaries’ – who in most cases will return, by middle age if not earlier, to the ‘mainstream’ – to lecture them on how to do so.)
More immediately to the point, they do not sufficiently distinguish industrial capitalism from the hyper-financialised – rentier – capitalism now dominant, in all its economically dysfunctional, warlike and profoundly anti-democratic squalour, in the West.
For the most detailed analysis of that distinction and its implications, mainly for China, see the work of Michael Hudson. But here, in twenty-seven high octane minutes, is Michael’s fellow American – political economist, Marxist don and frequent interlocutor – setting out pretty much the same thinking in the context of Europe’s – or rather, Europe’s Quisling 3 leaders’ – reckless gamble in Ukraine.
Over to Richard David Wolff, in conversation with Danny Haiphong:
- Though I do not share her radical liberalism, Naomi Klein’s “The Shock Doctrine” gives a gripping account – riding the tensions between readability and flawless documentation – in Chapters 10-11 of the devastation wrought by economic ‘liberalisation’ in Russia as Yeltsin did everything the Chicago Schoolers of the IMF (and behind them the carpet-baggers of “free enterprise”) urged.
- My definition of imperialism as the export of monopoly capital from global north to south, and repatriation from south to north of surplus value, is pretty uncontroversial from a Marx-Leninist standpoint. It is this relationship which Marxists who insist China and Russia are imperialist have failed to establish. Few even try.
- Quisling because, as I have repeatedly said on this site, all of them – Bojo, Queen Ursula, Manny Macron, Olaf the Unready, Rish! and the rest – have subordinated at every turn, and above all over Ukraine, the interests of their citizens to those of the US empire.